Writing Resources

Selecting an Effective Writing Assignment Format

In addition to the standard essay and report formats, several other formats exist that might give students a different slant on the course material or allow them to use slightly different writing skills. Here are some suggestions:


Journals have become a popular format in recent years for courses that require some writing. In-class journal entries can spark discussions and reveal gaps in students' understanding of the material. Having students write an in-class entry summarizing the material covered that day can aid the learning process and also reveal concepts that require more elaboration.

Out-of-class entries involve short summaries or analyses of texts, or are a testing ground for ideas for student papers and reports. Although journals may seem to add a huge burden for instructors to correct, in fact many instructors either spot-check journals (looking at a few particular key entries) or grade them based on the number of entries completed. Journals are usually not graded for their prose style.


Students can define and defend a position on an issue in a letter written to someone in authority. They can also explain a concept or a process to someone in need of that particular information. They can write a letter to a friend explaining their concerns about an upcoming paper assignment or explaining their ideas for an upcoming paper assignment.

If you wish to add a creative element to the writing assignment, you might have students adopt the persona of an important person discussed in your course (e.g., an historical figure) and write a letter explaining his/her actions, process or theory to an interested person (e.g., "pretend that you are John Wilkes Booth and write a letter to the Congress justifying your assassination of Abraham Lincoln" or "pretend you are Henry VIII writing to Thomas More to explain your break from the Catholic Church").


Students can define and defend a position on a controversial issue in the format of an editorial for the campus or local newspaper or for a national journal.


Students might create a case study particular to the course's subject matter.

Position Papers

Students can define and defend a position, perhaps as a preliminary step in the creation of a formal research paper or essay.

Imitation of a Text

Students can create a new document "in the style of" a particular writer (e.g., "create a government document the way Woody Allen might write it" or "write your own 'Modest Proposal' about a modern issue").

Instruction Manuals

Students write a step-by-step explanation of a process.


Students create a dialogue between two major figures studied in which they "write a dialogue between Claude Monet and Jackson Pollock about the nature and uses of art").

Collaborative Projects

Students work together to create such works as reports, questions and critiques.